Good hand hygiene can prevent smartphone contamination, says study

30th of July 2014
Good hand hygiene can prevent smartphone contamination, says study

A new study has concluded that touch screen smartphones can be used in clinical practice without being reservoirs for bacterial disease - with hand hygiene being key to contamination.

The study, which was called 'Mobile phones in clinical practice: reducing the risk of bacterial contamination', tested 50 phones from various members of a team in a surgical unit in Northern Ireland by swabbing for bacteria. The study included phones owned by members that filled multiple roles in the unit.

In addition to the phones, the researchers administered a questionnaire regarding phone usage while at work. All 50 of the owners of the swabbed phones answered the questionnaire as well as an additional 100 workers in the unit.

Of the phones that were tested, 60 per cent showed bacterial growth on the agars used. Twenty of the phones produced no cultures. Among the remaining phones, the study found coagulase negative staphylococcus, streptococcus viridans, micrococcus, corynebacterium and bacillus: none of which are traditionally associated with nosocomial infections.

These results were found despite 88 per cent of workers saying that they used their phones in the workplace. Previous studies have shown between five and 40 per cent contamination with nosocomial bacteria, so the researchers asked, what is different about this environment?

The researchers addressed the possibility that the sampling method was inadequate. They found their sampling method was capable of picking up pathogenic bacterial strains as well on handsets of landline phones.

To understand why nosocomial infection causing bacteria were not found on the phones, they performed a root cause analysis. Based on previous research that showed hand washing decreases contamination of mobile devices, the researchers looked into the hand hygiene in the surgical unit. They found a hand hygiene policy compliance rate of more than 97 per cent.

So the study suggests high quality hand hygiene could be an effective way to keep mobile devices from acting as reservoirs for pathogenic bacteria. Although this seems obvious, the study shows that phones aren't the problem. The key appears to be good hand hygiene.



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